The appearance of COVID-19 and the ensuing crisis was an unexpected punch for the non-profit sector. Response teams were mobilized. Emergency funds created and immediately put to use. To say it was a tax on the system is an understatement. Thankfully, our communities responded, offering financial support and hands-on help in new and innovate ways that only forced-isolation could inspire.
As the world now dabbles with the concept of normalcy, people may be quick assume it’s back to business as usual for all the charities and non-profits that helped get our cities through the worst. In reality, it’s anything but. Just as we all face fundamental changes in how we approach work, school and our relationships with others so to do organizations in the non-profit sector who work face-to-face with new people every day.
One of the biggest challenges going forward will be the necessary shift in how organizations interact with past and prospective donors. With large scale events off the table and smaller scale gatherings still testing people’s comfort levels, there is a need for more strategic forms of outreach and engagement that embrace the once unseen opportunities that exist in this new era. These could include adopting social enterprise models, engaging in cause marketing campaigns and offering innovative events online and, when safe, in person.
Orchestrating this kind of change in fundraising methodology isn’t something you do in-between staff meetings and service delivery. It takes dedicated time, effort, experience and brain power. With that in mind, it may seem like a good time hire a fundraiser to help forge a new path towards sustainable support. Before you start penning your job description(s), here are some key points to consider.
1. Do you know why you’re raising money?
Contrary to what you might be thinking, this is not a rhetorical question. It’s true, most agencies want—and need—a certain amount of undesignated funds to put towards projects, positions and sometimes even infrastructure projects that come up as a matter of course. A fundraiser’s skills are put to best use when there are clearly identified areas of impact or need you want to address.
It’s important to take time as an agency to prioritize your initiatives. Consider what you need to function day-to-day versus what you want to achieve with your long-term, strategic plan. Put some thought towards why these both matter, what their budget would be and how donors can play a role. Creating a road map from survival to success will allow you to articulate to a fundraiser (and anyone) how your organization affects change in the community. In other words, it will help you envision your BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goals). Support to allow for smaller, more day-to-day needs is still possible, and is likely to be made easier as a result of the work you do to understand your larger, higher-priority projects.
2. Is your organization’s culture ready to incorporate fundraising as an integral part of the team?
Working with a fundraiser is not just a matter of explaining the need and hoping the fundraiser will make it happen. It’s a hands-on experience—it needs to be an all-play across the organization. Depending on your size, your entire executive leadership team will need to be prepared to provide support where needed and dedicate time to meetings, planning, policy development, information gathering, reporting and ensuring an efficient approach to gift administration and financial recording/reporting.
In order for the work to move along effectively and in a timely manner, your CEO and board of directors will need to not only understand what a fundraising culture means, but contribute to it. Ideally, your CEO will be prepared to dedicate at least 25 per cent of their time to the portfolio—taking meetings, ensuring the right ask is in front of the right prospect, seeking professional development, if and where necessary. Your board will have clear fundraising expectations and see themselves as important contributors to fundraising. And don’t worry—this doesn’t mean they all have to ask for huge donations from their friends. Everyone brings a unique ‘gift’ in executing a well-rounded fundraising program.
3. Be clear on what you’re expecting from your new hire.
Turnover is high in this industry. Often, it’s because of preventable, misaligned expectations. Many agencies grapple with the need to both raise awareness of their organizations and impact as well as dollars, and while the two go hand in hand, fundraisers are not to be confused with Marketing and Communications (MarComms) experts. Their skills are complimentary, but they aren’t the same breed.
Fundraisers have a specific audience in mind when it comes to selling your brand and put their skills towards conceptualizing major gifts, annual funds, sponsorships and events designed to bring in donor dollars. Alternatively, MarComms professionals have a keen expertise in spreading the word, through public relations, social media and compelling written materials. The MarComms team can support the fundraiser’s efforts, especially if the plan involves media relations, social media and other channels to share testimonials, impact, and celebrate gift announcements.
If you are expecting your fundraiser to be responsible for these endeavours, it’s going to slow the process of raising funds down considerably. If a hybrid model is your only approach, you need to be realistic about what you can expect in terms of results.
If you plan to hire a fundraiser, you want to make sure everyone is set up for success. Do your homework to understand the strongest skill set of the person you’re hoping to hire. Once your fundraiser is onboard, work collaboratively with your new hire to build a plan that clearly identifies goals, objectives, metrics, timing and resources. This way, your team can clearly understand what can be accomplished within what timeframe and where your team (or volunteers, external contractors, a committee of advisors) can offer supplementary skills and support.
4. Are you prepared to get real?
Fundraisers are experts in their field, not necessarily yours. You’ll need to be prepared to offer information, ideas and resources to help bolster the fundraising materials. A fundraiser needs the freedom to build a relationship of trust and open communication with your team and the CEO/Executive Director needs to champion the importance of these relationships.
You and your team need to be on the same page when it comes to expectations of how the relationship across the team is going to work and how results will be realized. This includes building up everyone’s willingness to participate in honest conversations about areas of organizational strengths and any areas in need of improvement. This will allow the fundraiser to assess your fundraising marketability, giving them the tools they need to build a more realistic plan, develop appropriate processes and implement achievable policies.
Make a shared plan to ensure your team offers your new hire the support they need to get the job done and build a sustainable practice in your organization. We actually recommend having fundraising accountabilities in all the leadership teams performance plans – then everyone has a shared accountability for a culture of philanthropy and shares in the successes of accomplishments.
5. Are you prepared to spend money before you start receiving money?
It’s important to have a clear understanding of your budget for the fundraising process. Depending on the awareness of your organization in the funding community, readiness of your leadership team and the status of your prospect pipeline and fundraising foundation (plan, policies, processes and databases), it can take between 12 to 18 months before your organization starts to see a return on the investment. This timing takes into account that you’ve made the right hire for your organizational goals and culture (more on different kinds of experiences fundraisers have and how that aligns with current organizational needs in editions to come). Fundraising is about relationships and relationships require time, effort and trust to nurture.
You’ll also need to be prepared to invest time and funds into activities such as events, annual campaigns and donor recognition. While some of these activities may not seem like high return on investment initiatives, if done strategically with a longer-term goal in mind they are important awareness, credibility and relationship building tools that will prove worthy over time.